Archive for Media

Miliband’s Dad – should Ed bring back MailWatch?

Posted in Media, Politics with tags , , , on October 2, 2013 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Daily MailI suspect there is a lot of debate this morning (at least there should be) amongst PRs about how they would have advised Ed Miliband to respond to the Daily Mail’s attack on his father.

PRs are naturally conciliatory. God only knows I’ve taken it in the teeth often enough and not bitten back, but I think I would have been tempted to in this case.

PR wisdom is that you should never take on the man with the microphone, in this case Mail editor Paul Dacre, but there is plenty enough historical evidence to justify a more robust response.

A university friend of mine once wrote to former Senator Lloyd Bentsen (he of the great put down to Dan Quayle “you’re no Jack Kennedy”) to ask him what went wrong with the Dukakis campaign in 1988 as part of the research for his MA. Incredibly the late Senator replied and said the big mistake had been not biting back hard enough when the Bush campaign and right wing media laid into them in the spring of 1988 when they had a double digit opinion poll lead.

Clinton learnt that lesson in 1992 with his rapid rebuttal techniques only for John Kerry to forget it again when faced with Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

New Labour also learnt the lesson with Alistair Campbell initiating MailWatch in the late 1990s as a rapid rebuttal to anything derogatory  that appeared in that day’s paper. Ultimately, under pressure from Blair who wanted a more conciliatory stance and the Mail itself (“if you can’t take it don’t dish it out”), Campbell stopped, but was tempted on more than one occasion, according to his diaries, to bring it back.

Which brings us to Miliband. In my book the response is a hit both morally and politically. I’m not sure you can let that sort of thing lie but he gains in two ways.

Firstly, he looks a more sympathetic figure this morning and not the policy wonk he has always been portrayed as. Secondly, he dominated the news cycle on Tuesday wiping the Tory Conference out.

As for the Mail, misjudgement does not sufficiently cover it. Jonathan Freedland in today’s Guardian says it offended the British sense of fair play, but if I was in charge at The Daily Mail and General Trust, owners of the newspaper, I would be more worried by the Twitter response, which was not anger, but ridicule, and that is much, much worse

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Phone hacking: despite appearances the centre of gravity has moved west!

Posted in Media with tags , , , , , on April 24, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

With the Murdoch’s due to appear at Leveson this week and Labour MP Tom Watson publishing his new book, Dial M for Murdoch, you could be forgiven for thinking that the UK remains at the centre of the phone hacking crisis engulfing the Murdoch media empire.
 
You’d be wrong.  Almost out of sight is a development which threatens News Corporation in the US, as opposed to News International in the UK and that is very, very significant.  The Dowler family lawyer, Mark Lewis, now claims that he is representing four individuals whose phones were hacked on US soil.  At least one is a US citizen.  Others are, apparently, coming out of the woodwork daily.
 
According to a Guardian report last week, there is evidence that Fox News, Murdoch’s US cable TV operation is now implicated.  For News Corporation, the holding company, this is a nightmare come true. 
 
If phone hacking has crossed the Atlantic then senior management at News Corporation could find themselves in the dock.  Federal law states that an individual who violates telecommunications privacy for commercial purposes can face five years in prison with a 10 year tariff for a subsequent offence.   What’s more, civil courts can also offer damages in relation to the profits gained by the violators with punitive damages possible thereafter.
 
How big a deal is this?  Let’s put it this way.  In the US, News Corporation’s cable properties constitute over 60 per cent of operating income for the company.  With News Corporation making circa$1.06bn (£888m) net profit in their last quarterly filing to the SEC it is clear that any implication that Fox has been up to dirty tricks has massive implications.
 
However, it doesn’t stop there.  The Met Police’s investigation of bribery of public officials also has the potential to cross the Atlantic if it hasn’t already.  The Foreign Corrupt Practises Act offers the opportunity for the SEC to investigate the operations of News International in the UK but prosecute senior officials of News Corporation in the US.
 
The big question is, where does all this end?  My own view is that a number of very high profile people, some of whom have had access to the very highest levels of UK government (you know who I mean!)  are going to prison.  Probably for perjury, possibly for bribery and possibly for perverting the court of justice. 
 
Unfortunately James Murdoch, who was recently spirited out of the country to a new position in the US, in an attempt to distance him from phone hacking, may find that New York is uncomfortably close to the SEC headquarters in Washington DC.

Is the Daily Telegraph changing sides?

Posted in Media, Politics with tags , , , on March 9, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Where do you go if you want to read a stinging rebuke of this Government? Most of us would probably automatically turn to the Guardian or the Indy, but recent months have seen a torrent of invective delivered from writers at the Daily Telegraph of all places.

The last 48 hours are a classic case in point. First Ed West, journalist and social commentator with a right leaning bent, laid into Cameron comparing him to Ted Heath no less. In Tory-land there is no lower blow than this!

Apparently, Ed, who is widely regarded as a ‘one-to-watch’ up and coming political commentator, says Cameron will lose the 2015 General Election (he’s willing to put money on it) as he refuses to come up with a coherent policy on all manner of issues from immigration through to crime.

Within minutes of Ed’s rant, James Delingpole, another up and comer, laid into Dave & Co quoting the following. “The problem is that policy is being run by two public school boys who don’t know what it’s like to go to the supermarket and have to put things back on the shelves because they can’t afford it for their children’s lunchboxes. What’s worse, they don’t care either.”

As James noted, this quote doesn’t come from Vince Cable, as you might expect, but from Nadine Dorries, Tory MP for Mid-Bedfordshire.
It gets worse for Dave. Yesterday, one of the big commentator beasts, namely Peter Oborne piled in. Whilst making a number of brilliant points (the Coalition won’t last until 2015 is the key one) he comes out in support of Vince Cable and against George Osborne.

“The fact is,” he says, “Mr Cable has a reasonably worked-out and coherent grasp of political economy, whether one agrees with it or not, and Mr Osborne does not. A large number of Tories want Mr Cable out. They are very stupid.”

So what is going on? I was fortunate to chat with Mike Foster, former Labour MP for Worcester last night and his feeling is that the Conservative Party remains furious at Cameron for not winning the last Election outright and forcing them into a coalition.

True or not (I think it is true just to get off the fence for a moment) this sort of coverage (and many of the comments posted underneath which are in broad agreement with the writers) spell trouble for Project Cameron. Not least because the latest polls show the Labour Party has a steadily widening lead in the polls.

Sun on Sunday faces a big battle for readers

Posted in business, Media with tags , , , , on February 22, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

So, what do we make of the news that the Sun on Sunday is to launch this weekend?  Veteran Fleet Street watchers, like Roy Greenslade, have declared that Rupert Murdoch has pulled a rabbit out of the hat, simultaneously getting Sun journalists back on board after talk of mutiny in the ranks and reinforcing his commitment to UK newspapers.

I’m not so sure. It could equally argued that this is a short-term fix designed to appease the Sun mutineers rather than a real commitment. However, I can see the business logic in narrow UK terms, in that the new paper has the potential to do ‘massive numbers’ (as media planners are quick to tell us) and Murdoch needs a big selling ‘Sunday’ to bankroll his other loss-making UK newspapers.

But, and this is the crux, strong interest from advertisers does not always turn into strong sales and readership. Despite lots of positive vibes coming from media planners and News International, I still think it is going to be an uphill battle to get the British public to go out and buy in big numbers.

Firstly, it is going to be very difficult to get back all of the NOTW’s 2.6 million readers in an overall market for Sunday newspaper reading which is in decline. In August 1991 national Sunday newspapers collectively sold an average of 16.2 million copies. By August 2001 this number had reduced to 13.6 million. By August of last year it had fallen it had fallen off a cliff to a mere 8.3 million.

What’s more, circulation figures from last year suggest that more than a million NOTW buyers appear to have vanished into thin air. They did not switch allegiance to the Sunday Mirror or The People or The Mail – they just left the market entirely.

Secondly, reaction from competitors is likely to be brutal in terms of price-cutting and other incentives, as those titles which benefited from the closure of the NOTW attempt to hang onto their gains. News International will launch with huge promotional activity, but all of this eats into profits and cannot be sustained over the long-term.

Finally, there is one other issue which is going to make life difficult for this successor to the ‘Screws’. The NOTW made its name exposing the antics of the rich and famous, but we now live in an era of super-injunctions which can stop an invasion of privacy in its tracks. What’s more, the newspaper industry is fully aware that the Leveson Inquiry is on-going and is on its best behaviour. It will take a very brave editor indeed to splash a typical NOTW scandal story, of the type that made its predecessors name, in the opening weeks of this new venture.

News International will be very gung-ho about this weekend’s circulation figures regardless of what happens, but the real proof will come in March, April and May as the market begins to settle down again. I’m no media buyer, but I suspect with a print run of three million, News International will be hoping for an opening weekend north of NOTW’s final circulation figure of 2.6 million. That is an awfully tall order to sustain once the initial excitement wears off.

Capello: the media pack has got what it wanted!

Posted in Media, Sport with tags , , , on February 9, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

The Capo has gone. His critics in the media have got what they’ve wanted all along. I woke up this morning to Dan Roan on the BBC telling me that his tenure as England manager will be judged a failure. Arch critic Henry Winter in the Telegraph can barely contain his excitement.

Various reasons are put forward for what, in the eyes of many in the football media pack, should be a moment of national rejoicing. His grasp of English wasn’t good enough (presumably to give them better quotes); he was always on holiday!

Facts are not allowed to get in the way of a good story. Only this week Sir Alex Ferguson came out and said he would never allow such interference in the dressing room as the FA has perpetrated in the last week. The fact that Capello’s win percentage is better than any other England manager, including Sir Alf Ramsey, is glossed over. Presumably too inconvenient to merit valuable column inches.

His resignation caps a fabulous afternoon and early evening for ‘the pack’. Yesterday, Harry Redknapp (“our ‘Arry”) was cleared of tax evasion charges leaving him free to take charge of “the biggest job in football”. The fact that he is a self-confessed semi-illiterate who has never sent an email is irrelevant. He played at West Ham with the Heroes of ’66, Bobby, Geoff and Martin, don’t you know?

Unfortunately, ‘the pack’ is even worse at picking the next England manager than the FA. Only 18 months ago Liverpool fans were being told that we were lucky to have Roy Hodgson and that we would have to hand him back to the nation when the England job next became vacant. Multiple internet statto nerds pointed out Hodgson’s shocking away game record at every club he’s ever managed but their cries went unheard until the Kop, with its team only just outside the relegation zone, started ironically chanting “Hodgson for England.”

My advice to Harry Redknapp is don’t go near the job with a barge pole. The ‘pack’ is fickle and it will turn on you when things go badly, and things will go badly. As I sat in front of the TV last night marvelling at another England football crisis I recalled the words of one of Don Revie’s assistants at Leeds United when Revie was considering taking the England job in the mid-1970s. “They [the England players] are not as good and not as dedicated as what you have here.”

There are multiple problems with English football from the way it is administered through to individual players. Unfortunately, the events of yesterday allow us to gloss over the problems once more.

Leveson is the tabloids’ worst nightmare!

Posted in Media with tags , , , , , on November 22, 2011 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Just a quick take on the Leveson Inquiry which started slowly but is now building up a real head of steam.

For years the British tabloid press went about its business secure in the knowledge that it would always have the last word. Got caught printing a false story? “Never mind, we’ll print a retraction on page 42 and if the ‘victim’ tries to take it any further we’ll set the attack dogs on him.”

It was enough to ward off even the bravest of the brave. But now, as a result of Leveson, the last word goes to the victims and it is compelling viewing.

For the tabloids the impact of their modus operandi on targets is being laid bare for all to see and hear. The count so far is four alleged suicides, a burglary, a stay in a mental health institution, job losses galore, heartache and cruelty.

Much has been written about the Dowler family’s testimony yesterday, but Hugh Grant’s was equal to it. Responding to charges that he traded on his good name to get publicity he told the inquiry: “I don’t have a good name. I’m the man who was arrested with a prostitute.”

The Daily Mail responded today with characteristic venom to allegations of phone hacking by Grant, but it’s anger only reinforces the victim’s narrative of bullying, arrogant and heartless behaviour.

These are dangerous times for the Red Tops. The tables have been turned and the narrative of the story is beginning to run away from them. Crucially, social media and online news sites are giving the British public unfiltered updates in real time.

By the time the Daily Mail is read next morning we’ve been chewing over and discussing what we’ve seen and heard for the best part of a day.

The truth is that the tabloids have lost control of the situation and their traditional defence that these are “victimless crimes” has never sounded so hollow!

Internet statto nerds get journalism’s old guard in their sights

Posted in Media, Sport with tags , , , , on November 21, 2011 by Tom Leatherbarrow

It’s not easy when those you admire prove to have feet of clay. Barely ten days after lauding him on this very blog as being a ‘must read’ in the Independent, James Lawton crystallised the problem that many old guard journalists populating our national newspapers are facing.

Writing in Saturday’s Indy, Lawton used selective statistics to demonstrate how Kenny Dalglish’s reign as Liverpool manager is actually little better than that of his predecessor Roy Hodgson. In particular Hodgson’s points per game percentage of 1.25 compared to Dalglish’s 1.79.

Unfortunately for James, the internet is an unforgiving place. Nowadays, there is an army of statto nerd football supporters out there who are able to tell you the exact pass completion percentage of an individual player in the final third of the pitch during consecutive February’s and illustrate it in the form of a venn diagram. More importantly, in the digital age, comment boxes below articles give this army of nerds an opportunity to voice their opinion.

And so it came to pass. Within a few hours of the piece being posted Lawton was skewered on his own stats by football supporters of multiple allegiances, not just Red. Here are a few of the most choice (and repeatable) comments:

“You make a point of Dalglish’s average points haul being 1.79 over 29 games, when your beloved “English Arry” at Spurs is worse at 1.76 and Wenger’s is 1.66”

“The difference between 1.25 points per game and 1.8 is relegation and Champions League form”

“How can you use numbers which undermine your point to make a point?”

I suspect Mr Lawton won’t have lost much sleep over the reaction to his article, but he should. It may well have been a crude attempt at generating link bait but credibility is hard won and easily lost. He must realise that the days of being able to slop together a thousand words of ill-thought out comment five minutes before deadline are over. There is an army of statto nerds out there who have done their research even if he hasn’t.

Anyway, Mr Lawton can take what little solace there is from the fact that the Tomkins Times, run by the doyen of statto nerds, Paul Tomkins, has nominated him “Media Muppet of the Month”!